Google’s vaunted brainteasers are gone. Once a staple of its hiring process, the company’s decided that the tactic just didn’t add much value to the challenge of evaluating candidates. Talking with the New York Times, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock said the teasers were “A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”
However, one type of question that remains could be misconstrued as a brainteaser: Queries about market sizing and estimation continue to be fair game, says Gayle Laakman McDowell, once a Google hiring committee member and now CEO of CareerCup.com.
“Estimation questions like ‘How much pizza is sold in a year in the U.S.?’ are not brainteasers, they’re problem-solving questions,” observes McDowell. Brainteasers, she says, are questions that cannot be logically deduced and rely on a trick of wording, context or similar factors.
However, she notes, software engineers and others applying for technical roles are unlikely to encounter market sizing and estimation questions. “Software engineers are not asked about market sizing, but will be asked about algorithms and coding,” she says.
How the Hiring Process Works
Each position at Google has a hiring committee attached to it. For example, software engineering jobs in Seattle are ultimately reviewed by a group of software engineers in that office. During the interview, candidates meet with other software engineers and potentially the hiring manager. The interviewers are free to ask any questions they like, except brainteasers and those on a list of questions that have been banned because they’re widely circulated, McDowell says. Still, a brainteaser may slip into an interview, since the company doesn’t clearly define what they are.
One software engineer who interviewed with Google both recently and in 2000 said the interview format hasn’t changed very much. The difference, he says, is that interviews have become more efficient. “This interview lasted half a day and was with several people, whereas before it spanned several days,” says the engineer, who requested anonymity.
How Do You Behave?
What candidates are sure to run into at Google are behavioral interview questions — the “tell-me-the-most-challenging-time you faced X” type of approach. McDowell advises candidates not to necessarily pick “the” most challenging experience. Instead, select one that was difficult but allows you to clearly define the impact you had in resolving the issue.
It’s especially important to have an example that can be clearly explained without the need for a lot of context or explanation. “I’ve had candidates that went into so many details it overwhelmed me, or they failed to show that the results were compelling or their actions seemed too simple — like their contribution was sending an email or creating a PowerPoint presentation,” McDowell says.
One hopeful note: Software engineers and other technical job applicants may be relieved to hear that coding and algorithm tests and questions are given far more weight in the selection process than their responses to behavioral questions, McDowell says.